Friday, July 23, 2010

You know what's really frustrating?

I'm sure anyone reading this (by which I mean "me" :-) ) has heard about Shirley Sherrod's situation.

Andrew Breitbart was furious that the NAACP said that the Tea Party movement should repudiate racism in their ranks (please note the spelling, Ms. Palin; poor spelling is not Shakespearean, it's just sloppy).

Well, when a group representing black people engages in dialogue, you can't just let that pass. No, you have to go on the attack. I mean, "please, we've all seen some ugly crap at the tea parties; please stand up and say that's not what you stand for"? That's practically *uppity*. Gotta go on the attack.

So he posted a video trying to smear Shirley Sherrod. Now, of course, he claims that he was actually attacking the NAACP. But face it; anyone who posts dishonestly edited videos can't be trusted to be speaking the truth in the first place. So, let's skip explaining *why* he posted it - let's just say that he posted it for his own reasons, but he's willing to point to the NAACP asking for a group of people to take a stand against racism as his reason.

And that's frustrating, but that's not what's really frustrating. From Newsweek, this is what's really frustrating:

It turns out the farmer thought Sherrod had been a terrific help, and a full review of Sherrod's speech suggests that, far from being a racist, she had honestly (and successfully) worked through the complex racial preconceptions we all carry around in our heads.

Why is this so frustrating? Didn't Ms. Sherrod work through "the complex racial preconceptions we all carry around in our heads"? No.

See, here's the history - referenced in the video.

One day, her dad was murdered. Why? Well, there was a dispute over some cows. Does it matter? Only insofar as it was a pretty pathetic reason to kill a man.

And what happened? What did she, and every other black person in that area, know was going to happen?

A white grand jury refused to indict. They weren't going to make a white man go to court and maybe to jail for killing a black man.

Now, there's an important part of this, and I'm sure some people have missed it. This isn't something that happened, oh my goodness, what a surprising tragedy. And this wasn't a white *jury* deciding not to convict.

This was the grand jury saying that, in spite of there being two witnesses to the murder, there was not enough evidence to say that the murderer should have to face charges. Just facing charges is pretty awful; that's why we have grand juries. And they decided that facing charges was too much punishment for the murderer.

And young Shirley Sherrod didn't have reason to be surprised. Grief-stricken, yes... but not surprised. That's just how it was. If a white man decided to kill a black person, the law wouldn't care.

Now, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Alter here, but I am suggesting that he didn't quite comprehend what this is like, that he didn't think it though. Maybe he knew the history, but didn't dig deeply into the meaning to get the full comprehension. I don't know if he pondered what it would be like to know his father was gunned down in cold blood for a stupid property dispute, and know that no one was going to care, because, hey, see that skin color? That skin color you've got makes you worthless in the eyes of the law.

This isn't complex. This isn't like me, or Mr. Alter, realizing that we have stupid ideas about race, or unconscious prejudices, in spite of trying to be good people. This isn't anything like that.

This is a black woman who grew up knowing (and having it proven!) that a black person's life wasn't worth anything to the greater society in which she grew up. Not because of a horribly surprising incident, in which a criminal was not prosecuted... as she says in that very talk, no white man was going to be charged for killing any black man. Her father didn't have to be a rabblerouser or especially disliked; he just had to be her father, and his life was forfeit, any time someone decided they'd rather kill him instead of resolving a property dispute.

Ms. Sherrod's story is not a story of someone working through complex racial preconceptions. She didn't have preconceptions; she had actual experience. And there's nothing complex about "your daddy's life wasn't worth putting a white man on trial for, even if there were witnesses to the crime, and even if it was a stupid dispute over a few cows."

And that's what's really frustrating. That it's so easy to forget that so very many people living today have seen, and lived with, this hideous type of injustice.

I'm not singling Mr. Alter out - there's a bunch of people who could, and, clearly, who have, not considered the full situation here. And yet, any time a black person shows any emotional feeling about these injustices, they're going to be called racist.

And that is really frustrating.

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